The Conversation

  • Written by Kelly E Matthews, Associate Professor and Australian Learning & Teaching Fellow, The University of Queensland

University is a big investment. Students want value for money because a future of debt is scary. But there is also a danger when we talk about higher education only in financial terms. It shifts the conversation away from how universities develop students as learners, thinkers, and future leaders. It turns students into customers.

Read more: No, university is not a waste of time and money

Perils of treating students like customers

When lecturers think of students as customers, it influences how they teach. Pushing students out of their comfort zones, challenging the logic of their thinking, or giving critical feedback on assignments are all important for learning. Fear of bad teaching evaluations from students influences the extent to which lecturers challenge them.

Likewise for students, when they act like customers, it affects how they learn. The idea of being a customer shifts the responsibility of learning onto the lecturers, leaving students with a passive role to play. Yet, we know students need to take active ownership of their own learning. Numerous studies demonstrate grades suffer – and students learn less – when they are passive learners.

When universities talk about students as customers, they are contributing to the us-versus-them divide. This influences the quality of learning in higher education by reducing its measure to customer satisfaction. Students who say they had a good quality university experience report deeper, more meaningful interactions with lecturers in contrast to transactional relationships. They report having lecturers who care about them - who treat them as people.

Read more: Universities are failing their students through poor feedback practices

Change the conversation by including students

Universities that care about learning value an educational culture in which the student-lecturer relationship is at the heart of teaching and learning. Staff at these universities tend to do more than talk at, about, or survey students, they talk with them.

Stop treating students like customers and start working with them as partners in learning Students and staff talking at the annual Australian Students as Partners Roundtable event. Author provided/public domain

Recently, students and staff worked together on year-long projects at UQ to re-imagine Australian university education as a partnership. Students and staff from 11 Australian universities reported the values-based idea of partnership - students as partners - offered a counter-narrative to the all-too-common narrative of students as customers. Working in partnership was a chance for cultural change and a new way of “doing” higher education, they argued.

Learning and teaching partnership

Engaging students as partners is first and foremost about the values and principles of partnership:

  • mutual respect

  • open and ongoing communication

  • shared purpose and passion

  • appreciation of different experiences and expertise

  • willingness to take seriously what our partners say

  • an openness to negotiate ideas, and

  • a sense of adventure about creating something new or different.

Core values of students as partners are grounded in principles that highlight how students and staff can work together as co-researchers, co-teachers, and co-creators. Practical case studies show the creative ways partnership values are being translated into practice. Here are five examples:

  1. Students observing and discussing classes with lecturers.

  2. Students and staff working together to revise or co-create new subjects or classes.

  3. Students and lecturers negotiating the syllabus at the start of the semester.

  4. Students and staff collaborating to address complicated university issues together (such as cheating or sexual harassment).

  5. Students and staff co-designing new programs to make university more inclusive for non-traditional and under-represented students (such as first-in-family or Indigenous students).

The focus on partnership signals the importance of dialogue between students and university staff in learning and teaching.

Jarred Turner and Kelly Matthews talking about students as partners in an interview with Peter Copeman at the University of Canberra.

The possibilities for partnership extend beyond universities and national borders. There is a new, open access international academic journal capturing research on students as partners, co-edited by students and lecturers. There is an annual International Students as Partners Institute attended by students and staff. It is co-facilitated by students and lecturers.

We are beginning to see practices emerge across Australian universities enabled by this new language of students as partners – changing the conversation and hopefully university cultures.

Read more: Universities run as businesses can't pursue genuine learning

Join the conversation

A growing body of research demonstrates numerous benefits when students and staff work together as partners. There is room for more voices in the #studentsaspartners conversation.

Stop treating students like customers and start working with them as partners in learning More Australian universities are embracing students as partners in learning and teaching, and supporting students in these new roles where they work alongside lecturers and staff to shape higher education. Author provided/public domain

We need more examples of how students and staff are working differently, as partners, in universities. Share your examples, experiences, and ideas below so we can keep this conversation going.

Authors: Kelly E Matthews, Associate Professor and Australian Learning & Teaching Fellow, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/stop-treating-students-like-customers-and-start-working-with-them-as-partners-in-learning-93276


Union demands paint a bleak future under Shorten

It’s time for Bill Shorten to come clean and rule out extreme changes to Australia’s industrial relations laws that would wind the clock back to the strike-torn Whitlam era.   As the ACTU prepares...

Doorstop at AKD Sawmill with Trevor Ruthenberg, LNP Candidate for Longman

MR TREVOR RUTHENBERG, LNP CANDIDATE FOR LONGMAN: Well morning folks. Welcome to Caboolture, welcome to Longman. This is a fantastic day for local jobs. This is a fantastic day for our community. ...

Australia’s resource and energy export figures are on track to set a new record

Resources and energy exports setting NEW records   Australia’s resource and energy export figures are on track to set a new record of $226 billion in 2017–18 – and go even higher this year – accor...

Business News

Top Tips if You’re Thinking About Quitting Your Day Job and Starting a Small Business

Are you fed up with working for another person and long to be your own boss? Do you think you’d like to take over a local business that’s up for sale? Would you like to make your hobby into somethin...

What is the best structure to use when starting up a business

Coco Hou, tax specialist and accountant, has shared her advice for people who are starting up their own businesses, setting up side gigs, or moving into consultancy work. The start of the new financ...

Leading Employment Firm in WA 2018

Only a certain few start their careers as the boss. For most of us, we get employed by companies and in most cases, we never really find the need to hire employment lawyers. But if we do, hiring an ...


Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane

TFE Hotels has opened the doors of the spectacular new Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane, which offers stunning views over the Brisbane River and awe-inspiring interiors that transport guests back to t...

Winter In Rotorua: Things To Do

While many travelers consider the summer months to be the prime traveling season, there are thousands and thousands of travelers who love to take to their campervan hire australia journeys when the ...

Discover Hong Kong Your Way With Ecruising

From July – November 2018, Ecruising in partnership with Hong Kong Tourism and Royal Caribbean, including Azamara and Celebrity Cruises are offering travellers new and exclusive cruising itinerari...

You might also like